First Impressions of SFS Australia

Posted: February 12, 2013

Why did you choose to study abroad with SFS?
I chose to study abroad with SFS because it fit my interests perfectly: my desire for travel and experiencing a place unlike anything I have before, combined with my passion for biology and the natural world.

When I first started to look into study abroad programs, most of them available would have placed me at a foreign university where I would live and take classes on a campus. I could have gone anywhere in the world and taken fascinating biology classes in a different country — I’m sure I would have had a wonderful time. But I wanted a somewhat different experience out of my time studying abroad. My passion for biology takes me out of the classroom all the time. Whether performing summer research with a professor or birding with friends, some of the most enriching moments for me take place when I am experiencing the science I love hands-on. And so when it came time for me decide on a study abroad program, SFS was my first choice. My campus has become the rainforest, my classroom.

What are you first impressions of the country?
Australia has left me with the impression of immense beauty in a very short time. Whether it’s the Australian birdwing butterflies flitting around camp, the twisted trunks of the strangler figs, the lush green of the farm land, or the small downtown of Herberton, it’s hard not to stop and stare. I find myself constantly wanting to capture everything around me, whether in photos or just memory.  And it’s not just the places but the people. Everyone that I’ve met so far has been friendly and willing to chat with a group of young backpack-toting American students. I can’t wait to explore this country more!

What are you first impressions of the field station?
Driving up the winding Gillies Highway with unbroken rainforest on either side, I was taken by surprise when we suddenly made an abrupt right turn straight into what appeared to be just the unending wall of the forest. Recovering a little I realized that we had actually turned onto a small access road that was almost swallowed up by the dense growth on either side. This was just the first surprise of many about the Warrawee Field Station.

When I heard I was in cabin 1, I was surprised that it actually was the last one we came to and has the longest walk into camp! And I was surprised that I’m actually glad this is the case. I love the walk because there’s always something new to see, whether a brown tree snake or a pademelon or a brush turkey. I’ve also been surprised at how quickly I have started to feel at home on the station, considering that no home I’ve ever had has been quite like this. Or really anything like this actually. A place that is frequented by bandicoots, unconcernedly going about their business underneath our dinner tables. A place where a trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night means headlamps and cane toads and the biggest crickets (white kneed king crickets) I’ve ever seen, and the most starry sky. A place where sulfur-crested cockatoos call and the cicadas are sometimes so loud it drowns out the cockatoos’ screaming cries.

When I was writing this I realized that we’ve only been on the station for just over 5 days. I can’t believe that I have already experienced so much and yet it has all just been, really, a first impression.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you this semester both academically and culturally?
I think the biggest challenge for me academically is going to be adjusting to a very non-traditional classroom setting. I am very used to the ‘normal’ university academic environment, with class time lectures and homework time at home. But when your home becomes both your classroom and the rainforest, it is drastically different. It will take some getting used to but I’m excited for the challenge and I can imagine it will hard to go back to a traditional classroom next semester! I think I will also be challenged by my want to experience everything, and that I’ll need to work hard to make sure I am getting the most out of my time here, both academically and experientially. I also am looking forward to being challenged by the Directed Research and putting my skills I will learn this semester to the test.

What are you looking forward to the most about the semester?
I am looking forward to so much this semester! I can’t wait to explore the biology of the Australian rainforest, both in the classroom and in the field. I am especially anticipating the Directed Research, which will be a chance to participate in real scientific discovery and is why I am passionate about biology. I worked in a lab doing research last summer but I can’t wait to be part of field research, which is where more of my interest lies. I am also very excited to get to know my fellow students and make friendships that I hope will last for long past this amazing semester. Experiencing Australia, even if it’s just a small piece, has fueled my desire to eventually be able to explore more of this wonderful country and hopefully other amazing places throughout the world.

Give three words that best describe how you are feeling right now.
Awestruck. Sunburned. Ecstatic.